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Histories of South Asian Art: From the Earliest Times to the Present

What is Art and who is it meant for? What is specifically South Asian about South Asian Art? What does it mean to think of South Asia and Art as analytical categories? Did South Asian Art always exist? Or were historical processes involved in the making of the field? What are the objects of South Asian Art? Where do we locate the “genesis” of art in South Asia? Did art forms in South Asia emerge in a zone of cultural and social isolation? Or can we trace trajectories of trans-regional contacts, encounters, and exchanges as central to the shaping of the field of South Asian Art? What is the scope of tradition and innovation in the visual arts of South Asia? Did arts of South Asia “influence” artistic practices in other regions? How did artists at different points in history think about the region we identify as South Asia?

Seeking to address some of these questions, this course examines aspects of the visual arts of South Asia from its earliest traces in cave paintings and stone implements to sculpture, painting, illustrated manuscripts, calligraphy, and architecture. The course follows a chronological scale, from prehistory to c. 1950. The vast geographical as well as the temporal span of the field will restrict the course from delivering an encyclopedic survey. Instead it will prioritize intensive analysis of selected themes. Rather than placing the teleology of South Asian “art” solely in the context of changing dynastic histories, the course takes up specific themes in art across a range of objects, artefacts, archaeological sites, built spaces, religious and political symbols, and institutions of art pedagogy and exhibitions. In the process we address the questions of image, icon, and representations of body, landscape, portraiture in the context of social and ideological changes, aesthetic turns, shifting patrons and markets, and introduction of new material media. The course will probe both ‘South Asia’ and ‘South Asian Art’ as stable (art) historical categories and map the new methodologies and vocabularies employed by art historians.

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka